Last year the Diocese of Rochester’s Public Policy Committee identified affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families as one of its top priorities for 2005. Since then, individuals at many diocesan parishes have signed petitions urging state lawmakers to allocate more money for affordable-housing projects.
Prior to this initiative, several organizations affiliated with the diocese have been working to provide affordable housing for people struggling financially, as well as for the elderly and the developmentally disabled. Within the past several months Catholic Charities Community Services, Bishop Sheen Ecumenical Housing Foundation Inc. and Providence Housing Development Corp. have each taken strides to increase the housing opportunities available to members of those populations within the Finger Lakes region.
Catholic Charities Community Services and Providence Housing celebrated the grand opening of Benton House on Nov. 17. Benton House, which is located just outside of Penn Yan, is now home to six developmentally disabled residents, said Anne Sawyko, development director for CCCS.
Providence was the housing developer for Benton House and later formed a subsidiary to own it, while CCCS manages and provides services for the facility, said Jane Lange, deputy director of Providence.
Before Benton House opened, all six residents lived in either Cramer House or Penn Yan House, two other local CCCS residences that were downsized after Benton House’s opening. When Penn Yan House and Cramer House opened in 1981 and 1994, respectively, it was common for such homes to accommodate 10 or 12 residents apiece, Sawyko said. Current philosophies, however, encourage such facilities to provide private rooms and only house between four and six residents apiece, she added.
“It’s more like family living,” Sawyko said.
Both Penn Yan House and Cramer House are two-story buildings. The stairways posed a challenge for some of the older residents, so these residents were among those that moved to the one-story Benton House, she added.
CCCS also operates Gavitt House, a Lyons residence for the developmentally disabled. The agency recently received a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to build a second facility in Lyons, and officials tentatively expect to break ground for that project in spring 2006, Sawyko said. About half of the residents at Gavitt House will eventually move to the new facility in Lyons, which will be similar to Benton House. Providence and CCCS plan to work together on this new house in the same way they worked on Benton House, Lange said.
Construction began on Shortsville Meadows — another Providence project — late last spring, and a formal groundbreaking ceremony was held in July. Shortsville Meadows is a 20-unit affordable rental project expected to open in February or March 2006, Lange said. The one- and two-bedroom apartments will be for families and senior citizens whose incomes are less than 50 percent of the average median income for the area. For example, that would mean a family of three with an income of less than $27,950 would be eligible to live in the complex, Lange said.
“Our feeling is that there is a need everywhere for affordable housing for low-income people. It’s not as obvious in some of the rural areas as it is in the cities,” she said.
Providence also provides housing for people with disabilities at its Elizabeth Blackwell Apartments in Geneva and acted as a consultant to diocesan Catholic Charities when that organization was preparing to open La Casa in Sodus, a new transitional house for migrants living in the diocese.
Officials at Bishop Sheen Housing are also preparing to open a new facility. The organization, which is a joint venture of the Catholic and Episcopal dioceses of Rochester, maintains residences for senior citizens in Bloomfield and Canandaigua and has helped families and individuals in the region through its Home Ownership Program and emergency home-repair grants. In late August the agency received $2.1 million in state funding, and this money will be used to build a 40-unit family-housing complex in Waterloo, said Allynn Smith, Bishop Sheen’s executive director.
The complex, which will be called Elizabeth Crossings, will comprise five two-story resident buildings and a single-story community building with a laundry facility and lounge areas. Families applying for an apartment at Elizabeth Crossings will have to meet specific income requirements, and each apartment will have its own townhouse-style entrance, giving the families a sense of ownership.
“We’re going to try to empower people to rent until they’re stabilized. We might eventually help them buy their own homes,” Smith said. “In rural America we really do need some family housing.”
On Dec. 5 Smith learned that Bishop Sheen Housing had been awarded a portion of the $10.2 million distributed to not-for-profit organizations during the first round of funding for New York’s new Access to Home program. Through this program, organizations will use grant money to make the homes of disabled people more accessible. This money could be used to pay for such things as the installation of a wheelchair ramp, a handicapped-accessible shower with a grab bar or flashing lights in the home of a hearing-impaired person, Smith said.
“It’s wonderful because so many times that’s what it takes to keep someone in their home,” Smith said.
Bishop Sheen Housing received a total of $1.1 million through the Access to Home program. The organization received three $100,000 grants to be used in Yates, Seneca and Schuyler counties and four $200,000 grants to be used in Wayne, Monroe, Chemung and Tioga counties, Smith said.